After basic physical and emotional needs, there’s one need that drives people: the need for self-fulfillment, for meaningful achievement. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs refers to this as self-actualization.
I feel that, Mr. Maslow. I do. There’s so much I want in this life, so many goals I want to achieve. That same drive and ambition is reflected in people around me. We’re always pushing ahead, striving for an ideal situation. And we’ll be truly happy when we get there.
I see so many people saying they’ll be happy when. When they lose a few more pounds. When they make a bit more money. I find myself sliding into that thinking sometimes too. It’s a seductive mindset, the idea that one day we’ll reach a better state and find true contentment there. And we’re almost there, just one more step forward, one more achievement.
But if we’re not happy here, in the striving, will we really be happy there, in the when?
The truth is, the dynamic nature of life means we’ll always be pushing forward, always reaching. What if, every day, we’re just a day away from happy? We’ll arrive at the end of our lives still reaching for that ever-elusive happy.
Over the last few years of life curveballs and jarring redirections, I’ve come to embrace an illuminating truth: contentment isn’t a destination.
It happens here. In the “not quite where I want to be yet.” In the “I’m still working on things.”
Happiness isn’t waiting for me on the other side of an exciting achievement. It’s already here. And it’s here because I choose it. I choose to celebrate all that is good in my life. I choose contentment by shifting my focus away from the mountain of things I want to the mountain of things I have.
I’m not saying I’m going to sit back and accept my life as it is. Contentment does not require surrender. Ain’t no give-up happening here, let me assure you.
I’m still striving. But I choose to find contentment in the striving, joy in the incredible opportunity to chase after achievements.
There was a time when I was a day away from happy. (Yesterday. It was yesterday.) Today, happy is here because I choose it. I’m wrapping my arms around it and digging my nails right in because I’m not letting go, whatever happens. Happy is riding this life roller coaster right along with me.
I never would’ve expected that getting sick would save my life. But it very possibly did.
Five years ago, during my first semester in a new grad program, I got sick. I couldn’t eat anything without getting horribly sick to my stomach. After frustratingly normal test results and a month of surviving on applesauce (and losing nearly ten pounds), a gastroenterologist finally prescribed an antibiotic as a shot in the dark. Thank God it worked.
It took months to regain my strength. But even once I felt better, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was still wrong. I still felt a bit queasy after I ate. Because I was impressed with the gastroenterologist who finally saved me, I went back to her and was scheduled for a colonoscopy and then an endoscopy.
The endoscopy identified a simple problem—my stomach was overproducing acid, possibly as a reaction to my month of being unable to eat. I took drugs for a few months and then was fine.
But what may have saved my life happened before that.
It was the colonoscopy.
While it didn’t identify the cause of my symptoms, it did find some silent killers—several polyps, one of which was considered “precancerous.”
I was 25 at the time.
You want to know the risk factors for colon polyps? Being overweight, lack of exercise, eating a poor diet, smoking, heavy alcohol use, being over 50, having other gastroenterological conditions, a family history of colon cancer, being African-American, and having diabetes.
You want to know how many of those apply to me?
I’m a colon polyp unicorn. Apparently my body is trying to have cancer.
I don’t plan to let that happen.
Let me clarify—precancerous doesn’t mean it would have turned into cancer, just that it could have. And in those 25 years between then and when most people have colonoscopies, who knows what it could’ve become.
Every medical professional I tell gets a bit wide-eyed.
“No family history of colon cancer?” they ask, incredulous.
“Not that I know of,” I tell them.
“Wow.” They shake their heads. “You’re lucky they found the polyps when they did.”
I am lucky. Especially since it wasn’t a singular occurrence. I had a follow-up colonoscopy three years later–more polyps. Then two years after that, just this week in fact–more polyps. I’ll probably need to be screened every two years for the rest of my life.
It’s funny to think about what would’ve happened if I hadn’t gotten sick in the first place. Would I have developed cancer? Possibly. Maybe not. There’s no way to know for sure.
Being sick was awful. It felt terrible. But I’m absolutely certain having cancer is worse. I never would’ve guessed that I’d be grateful for an illness or for colonoscopies, but I am. I thank God I got sick and for the technology that keeps fighting cancer for me.
You never know what may come of something horribly. Maybe all that happens is that you learn how to be strong, to push through something awful.